What is Pollen?
Pollen grains are microscopic particles released by plants in order for them to reproduce. Some plant reproduce by cross-pollination facilitated by insects and animals. These plants usually have flowers that attract pollinators, and often have pollen that is less likely to become airborne. Therefore, these plants are also unlikely to cause allergic reactions. However, plants that rely upon the wind for pollination are very problematic for allergy sufferers. Their pollen is usually produced in very large quantities – even one million pollen grains per day – and this pollen tends to be small, dry, and light-weight making it very easy to inhale and very difficult to avoid.
When pollen is inhaled by allergic individuals, it causes seasonal allergic rhinitis, also known as hay fever. Pollen particles trigger allergic symptoms when they enter people’s throats and noses. These allergy symptoms include sneezing; irritation or itching of the nose, eyes, and throat; nasal congestion; or post nasal drip. In more severe reactions, someone may experience chest congestion, wheezing, allergy cough, or shortness of breath.
Pollen allergy counts, which are part of many local weather reports, are measures of how much pollen is in the air. Pollen counts are usually highest in the early morning on dry, warm, breezy days. They are usually lowest during wet, cold periods. Even though pollen counts are always changing and are really only estimates, they are helpful for advising you when it is best to stay indoors so that you can minimize your pollen exposure.
Though many species of grasses grow in the US, only a few of them produce pollen that is highly allergic to humans. These include Timothy, Kentucky bluegrass, Johnson, Bermuda, Redtop, Orchard, and Sweet vernal. These grasses grow in Iowa while Bermuda and Johnson grass varieties grow in Southern United Sates.
In the Midwest US, the most common allergenic weeds are ragweed, English plantain, lamb’s quarters, and mugwort. Ragweed is a very well-known allergenic weed. It is a ragged-looking plant that has an unpleasant smell. Interestingly, when ragweed grows in a hostile environment, it will produce more pollen.
Tree Pollen Allergy
In the Midwest US, some of the common allergenic tree pollens are ash, beech, birch, hickory, oak, sycamore, elm, and maple. Sometimes, people who react to tree pollen may also react to certain fruits, specifically plums, pears, and apples. This condition is called Food-Pollen Allergy Syndrome. These cross-reactions may involve itchiness of the throat and mouth, and some people find that cooking these fruits will reduce or eliminate any reaction. Allergy testing performed by our office can help identify the pollen allergy that is causing your allergy symptoms.
Tips for Dealing with Pollen Allergies
- After you have spent time outdoors, take a quick shower to remove any pollen you may have accumulated on your skin or hair.
- Spend more time indoors when pollen levels are high. You can check pollen counts online.
- Don’t drive around with your windows down. Don’t leave the windows open in your house either.
- Electrostatic filters may be more effective than standard air filters at trapping pollens.
There are many over-the-counter options for antihistamines that can help relieve your allergy symptoms. You may consider over the counter allergy medication as your first treatment option. Allergy immunotherapy is also an effective treatment option for long-term relief. Most patients will experience a significant improvement in allergy symptoms within 6 months of beginning immunotherapy or allergy shots.